Nigeria is enjoying a delicate time in mixed martial arts at the moment. Several top fighters compete for titles and continue the tradition of Nigeria producing some of the very best in the world.
This weekend, one of those fighters, Israel Adesanya, is defending his middleweight belt at UFC 293 in Sydney, Australia.
Adesanya has come back even stronger after surprisingly losing to Alex Pereira last November and is looking to dominate his division once again.
The Last Stylebender, as he is nicknamed, is set to go down in history as one of the best to ever fight in UFC. But there have been other Nigerians who have done their country proud over the years.
Here are some of the fighters from this country that have performed at the most elite level of MMA and UFC.
With so much tradition and success in the sport, we will be cheering on Nigerian fighters in the octagon for a long time.
Where else to start but with one of the biggest names in UFC right now? Born in Lagos, Adesanya relocated to Ghana first and then to New Zealand at the age of 10.
But he is still very proud of his roots and represents Nigeria well at UFC. He has also boxed and kick-boxed professionally but now concentrates on MMA.
After entering UFC in 2018, having already won 11 mixed martial arts fights, Adesanya climbed the rankings rapidly and won and unified the middleweight division in over a year.
He defended his title on five occasions, ultimately unsuccessfully attempting to claim the light heavyweight belt simultaneously.
Adesanya was defeated last November by Brazilian fighter Alex Pereira but won the rematch in April within two rounds by a knockout.
He has now set his sights on defending the title again against Sean Strickland and is favoured to leave UFC 293 bathed in more glory.
Born to a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother in Calgary, Canada, Dawodu experienced a troubled childhood and was sent to train in the art of Muay Thai when he was 16 in an attempt to curb his uncontrollable aggression.
It seems the best thing he could have done, as he has now translated those skills into mixed martial arts and UFC.
After kickboxing and fighting in other MMA organizations, Dawodu signed a deal with UFC in 2017 and is now attempting to establish himself in the featherweight division.
A defeat in his first UFC bout only seemed to spur Dawodu on, as he went on to win his next five. Results have been mixed in the last few years, though, as he has lost three of his final four to hold a 13-4 record.
Born in Lagos but relocated to the US, Yussuf has built a reputation for being hard to beat as a featherweight – partly because of his power, but also down to his immense size for his weight.
After winning Dana White’s Contender Series TV show competition, he was awarded a UFC contract.
He immediately showed how good he was in the next fight, winning the Performance of the Night against Suman Mokhtarian.
Although yet to have fought for a championship belt, Yussuf has appeared at two major UFC events – UFC 241 and 246 – on his way to a 13-2 record.
He also showed great courage to come back from a loss in 2021 to win both of his last two bouts. In October, he is scheduled to face Edson Barboza at UFC Fight Night 230.
Nicknamed the Nigerian Nightmare, Usman is a legend of the sport and became the first African fighter to win a title when he beat Tyron Woodley in 2019.
Known for his wrestling skills and fearsome punch, Usman is another Nigerian fighter who is enormous for his division and continues to be one of the best in UFC.
Usman was a top US college wrestler but has shown a more complete skill set in UFC. After winning his first bout in the organization in 2015, he won 15 straight fights, winning the welterweight championship title and then defending his belt an impressive five times.
Usman sensationally lost to underdog Leon Edwards at UFC 278 in 2022 and then failed to take back his title in March of this year. At the age of 36, it is questionable whether he will ever be crowned champion again.
Still, he does have an acting career to fall back on after making a guest star appearance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in 2022.
Nzechukuwu has followed a familiar path to UFC. Having been born in Nigeria but relocated to the US at a young age, he was also taken to MMA training to instil discipline – and was even awarded a UFC contract after a successful stint on Dana White’s Contender Series. He can boast a 7-3 record in UFC and 12-4 overall in mixed martial arts.
Sometimes criticized for being a slow starter in his bouts, Nzechukuwu is nevertheless regarded as a comeback specialist, winning fights that seem to be a lost cause.
He could potentially become a future light heavyweight champion but lost his most recent fight in August and needs to get back to winning ways soon to show that he has what it takes.
Something in the Nigerian blood must make its fighters so successful in MMA. Suppose Israel Adesanya can win his title fight at the weekend.
In that case, it will show that he is one of the all-time greats – and he will no doubt inspire generations of Nigerian fighters to become champions themselves.